Sunday, 31 August 2008

Surrealism news

Nice article on Nicolas Bourbaki. This made me laugh out loud - kind of a funnier preview of the Derrida/Searle debate:

"In the 1950s, Ralph Boas of Northwestern University wrote an article for the Encyclopaedia Britannica on Bourbaki, explaining that it was the pseudonym for a consortium of French mathematicians. The editors of the encyclopedia soon received a scalding letter signed by Nicolas Bourbaki himself, declaring that he would not allow anyone to question his right to exist. In revenge, Bourbaki began spreading the rumor that Ralph Boas himself didn’t exist, and that B.O.A.S was an acronym of a group of American mathematicians."

In other news, Geoffrey Perkins is dead. Allegedly he was the inventor of the game Mornington Crescent - there's a lively round being played on Slashdot now, Duke of Edinburgh's rules.

Saturday, 30 August 2008

Argh, numbers

I just love articles like these. You can picture some pimply junior reporter struggling to read through the latest issue of Social Trends, grabbing some numbers and writing them down.

"Divorces in the 45 to 49 age group also increased, with more women than men getting divorced. In 2006 there were 14.9 divorces for every 1,000 married women aged 45 to 49, rising to 15.3 by 2007. For every 1,000 45 to 49-year-old married men in 2006 and 2007, 17.3 got divorced."

Eh? Shouldn't that be "more men than women?" Or do they mean, total numbers? But what would be the point of that? Wait, how can more women than men get divorced anyway - are loads of lesbian marriages breaking up? Never mind, just copy something out of the press release, look up a couple of numbers at random in the spreadsheet....

Thursday, 28 August 2008


Gordon Tullock quotes

BT bills

Small note. If you got a letter from BT giving you free local weekend calls, check your phone bills carefully. We did (in the old house) and we discovered they were still charging us for local calls. They overcharged us £50. Pretty outrageous really - it's hard to imagine how this could be an accident, given the whole billing system is automated.

My nightmare

"Imagine a world where companies and government must keep the public, or their employees, or both, happy with their plans and behavior," Assange says. "That is the world we are striving to create" (from a Wired interview with the founder of Wikileaks). Sounds like a nightmare to me.

Friday, 15 August 2008

Freedom, security

UK consultation on keeping location data (i.e. everywhere you've been over the past year) so that local council officers can find out if you've been overfilling your wheelie bins. This has been in the headlines lately.

Read it, wade through the hideous Eurojargon, write them a letter telling them to reconsider. Or don't. You're probably one of the Germans from my office in Essex, thinking "ha ha! Those crazy eccentric Brits with their privacy obsession! I voluntarily write to my local council every two weeks, detailing my religious beliefs and current favourite sexual position, because in Germany, we have high social capital!" Yes I do mean you, Nils & Steffen. Anyway, here's mine.

Dear Mr Knight

I am a UK citizen. I picked up on the Home Office consultation document on “Transposition of Directive 2006/24/EC” and felt the need to respond.

As I understand it, if the current plan goes ahead, ISPs, phone companies etc. will be required by law to keep data about my communications for a year, including for example mobile phone data that shows where I have been. Up till now there have been only voluntary guidelines about this.

I believe this is a bad idea. I am sure that the police would often find this data useful, as your examples suggest. But it also allows the government – including local councils – too easy access to information about my private life. I think the balance here has gone too far towards centralized storage of our personal data. I do not want local councils to know where I have been. I want to give up some security in exchange for some freedom.

Re: competition. Although the proposals to reimburse ISPs for the cost of keeping location and traffic data may help sustain a competitive market, this is trivial compared to the more serious problem that they turn ISPs into paid government informants, giving them a vested interest in the proposed system.

For these reasons, I support the “Do Nothing” option. It is the least worst.

Yours sincerely,

David Hugh-Jones

Monday, 11 August 2008

RSS feeds for papers

I've been getting into this as a way of keeping up with new papers before they hit the journals.

Here's one that seems to be hidden on the NBER website: - new NBER papers in political economics.

I mentioned REPEC already. SSRN's feeds for individuals don't seem to work. Most individual journals also have RSS feeds and some have feeds for pre-published papers.